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Plasma acetate turnover and oxidation were determined in 11 healthy subjects by the constant infusion of a trace amount of [1-14C]acetate for 6 h. The subjects ages ranged from 22 to 57 yr. There was a positive correlation (P less than 0.001) between plasma acetate concentration and turnover rate, and a negative correlation (P less than 0.001) between turnover and age. The plasma acetate concentration in the subjects 22--28 yr old was 0.17 vs. 0.13 mM (P less than 0.02) in subjects 40--57 yr old. The plasma acetate turnover rate was also greater in the younger age group (8.23 +/- 0.66 vs. 4.98 +/- 0.64 mumol/min . kg, P less than 0.01). Approximately 90% of the plasma acetate turnover was immediately oxidized to CO2 in both age groups, however, 13.2 +/- 0.89% of the CO2 output in the younger group was derived from plasma acetate oxidation compared to 7.9 +/- 0.94% in the older group (P less than 0.01). The mean plasma acetate concentration, turnover, and oxidation in six cancer patients 47--63 yr old were similar to the values observed in the age-matched healthy subjects. Uptake or output of acetate by various tissues was measured by arterial-venous plasma acetate concentration differences. In seven of eight subjects undergoing elective surgery, the arterial-portal venous concentration difference was negative, which indicated that the gastrointestinal tract can contribute to plasma acetate production. Uptake of plasma acetate by both the leg and liver appeared to be dictated by the arterial acetate concentration. Net production of acetate by both the leg and liver was most often observed at arterial plasma acetate concentrations less than 0.08 mM.